There are many opportunities and challenges in employee benefits for our international clients to consider this year. Here are my views on the outlook for 2019. Contributor Tristan Cleaver, Managing Consultant International – Punter Southall Health & Protection
Brexit will continue to dominate the agenda, particularly in the first half of the year. The uncertainty over Britain’s position has made it very challenging for companies to plan effectively. In 2018, clients voiced their concerns about the implications of Brexit and asked me regularly about the implications for their global benefits. Questions included, what will happen to their employee’s IC cards and will they be valid in the event of a no deal? Unfortunately, the situation is uncertain. Given this, I can’t recommend enough the importance of clients having good international medical insurance to cover their employees regardless of Brexit.
Another big issue for employers is the fact the cost of international assignments might rise. The current relative weakness of the pound has meant that when employee’s contracts are ending, employees are likely to want to renegotiate their salaries.
Immigration and Expats
We’ve seen a reduction in immigration since the EU Referendum vote and an increase in people coming into the UK from outside Europe. More companies have been recruiting talent from areas such as India and Canada.
Increasingly, companies are looking to their international medical insurance providers to invest in technology to make their lives easier. One area where change is most needed is in client administration and in the lengthy and often complex claims processes.
Some Insurers are driving change by investing in apps and we’d like to see more apps introduced to help clients manage the claims process so they can use mobile technology to upload receipts and manage claims quickly and seamlessly.
Currently, the world of international medical insurance is very complex and there’s huge potential for Insurers to use technology to give clients a far better member experience, to simplify and clarify the information and offer greater transparency.
Wellbeing will be the biggest theme for our international clients. We’re starting to see wellbeing built into some core insurance products and this will continue apace. The most exciting service offered by international insurers is Virtual GPs. Currently, just one Insurer we work with offers this as a core benefit, but many others are offering this service as an additional cost.
Demand for Virtual GP services amongst businesses clients is high, particularly in the UAE. Unlike the UK, getting a medical appointment in the UAE is very easy. Employees tend to use GP services frequently as they are covered by insurance, but this can result in lost productivity and can drive up the cost of insurance and claims for businesses. Companies are interested in the potential for virtual GP services for reducing the frequency of appointments.
The cost of failure of expat assignments is high – the average expat assignment costing $311,000 (£217,000) per year. 40% of all overseas assignments are judged to be failures and most fail because employees and their families can’t adjust to the local culture and environment.
Currently, too few companies offer pre-assignment screening and cultural training for expat employees which could make all the difference. An initial physical and mental health screening will eliminate unsuitable candidates, saving companies a great deal of money. Cultural awareness will also help to set realistic expectations – expats will then know what to expect in terms of the culture and behaviours, increasing the likelihood of assignment success.
In 2019, we will be promoting the many affordable expatriate services available today to help companies ensure assignment success. These include pre-assignment health screening to ensure someone is fit for the assignment, cultural training for the whole family, comprehensive travel and medical insurance packages and access to Employee Assistance Programmes EAPS throughout the assignment. While such services are relatively cost effective for Employers, the assurance and value they give employees is priceless in terms of their employees’ wellbeing.
[i] PWC/Cranfield School of Management – Measuring the value of International Assignments